While the teachers themselves interpreted their action as a token of solidarity with Muslim students, netizens minced no words, calling them “idiots” and suggesting they promoted the oppression of women.
Following a proposal by the right-wing Sweden Democrats, the municipality of Skurup in southern Sweden has introduced a ban on religious headgear in its primary schools and preschools. In protest, non-Muslim teachers chose to put on veils.
The ban, backed by the liberal-conservative Moderates and the local Skurup party, applies to both children and staff. According to the newspaper Aftonbladet, it “stirred up emotions”, as protests by Malmö’s Young Muslims and counter-protests were held outside Skurup’s town hall.
Tasnim Raoof, the chair of Malmö’s Young Muslims, suggested the ban was “racist” as it “denied Muslim women’s right to their bodies and their democratic freedom of choice”.
A dozen counter-protesters chanted slogans like “Freedom for Swedes” and “Close Islam”. According to the police, the demonstration gathered some 250 participants and went quietly except for one incident in which one of the counter-protesters had their placard destroyed.
Later, six non-Muslim teachers at Prästamosseskolan School donned veils to show their support to Muslim students.
“The students get excited when they see that we also have veils. They feel that we support them,” teacher Marit, who teaches Swedish as a second language, told Aftonbladet.
Prästamosseskolan headmaster Mattias Liedholm said that he refuses to comply with the municipality’s decision.
“Neither I nor any of my colleagues will enforce it. Then it becomes a matter of personnel for the municipality to handle,” he said.
Andreas Lindholm, a lawyer with the Swedish National Agency for Education, suggested that a blanket ban on headdress is contrary to the European Convention on Freedom of Religion.
Sweden Democrats group leader Lars Nyström explained that the idea of the ban is to protect women from oppression.
“The basic attitude is that we believe that boys and girls are just as worthy and wearing clothes to hide women’s faces and hair that does not belong in Skurup municipality,” Lars Nyström said.
According to him, the ban will be implemented within six months. While he also expected the school staff to comply with the decision, local teacher Naouel Aissaoui pledged to stop working in Skurup if the ban is enforced.
The ban and the protests have sparked a debate on social media.
“The European Convention on Human Rights, which stands above Swedish law, has already decided that veils are inappropriate for teachers at the school. Skurup must comply with ECHR,” blogger, journalist and author Katerina Janouch suggested.
“Dress codes for girls and women to cover their heads, wear long sleeves and not show the ankles is tantamount to oppression that doesn’t belong in a secular country. Let girls and women their hair wave freely in the wind, and remember that in today’s Iran brave women protest and take off their veils despite threats of punishment,” another user tweeted.
“And these are the ones we let take care of and indoctrinate the posterity… Lost for words,” yet another tweeted.
Others went so far as to call the teachers “idiots” and “medieval”, suggesting that they supported the oppression of women.
Skurup is the seat of Skurup Municipality in Skåne County and is home to over 15,700 inhabitants. In the 2018 election, the Sweden Democrats made major gains in Skurup. The party went from 20.4 percent to 26.1 percent of the vote, edging out its competitors.
Previously, Staffanstorp Municipality in the very same Skåne County banned Islamic headwear up to sixth grade, in a move aimed to counter “honour culture”.
The number of Muslims in Sweden has soared in recent decades, from merely about 500 Muslims in 1950s to over 800,000, or amounting to 8.1 percent of the population today, according to Pew Research Centre.